Haiti’s agony - after OAS meeting
- When will the money really come? By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
June 9, 2002

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DAVID Rudder will still have us sharing his mournful sentiment, `Haiti - I am sorry’, in contrast to his very upbeat, inspiring cricket anthem, `Rally round the West Indies’.

The reason is that even after the latest Annual General Assembly of the Organisation of American States last week in Barbados, there remains that awful agony of poverty, suppression and deprivation that the oldest nation of the entire Western Hemisphere will have to continue to endure - even as scores die at sea trying to escape from their misery.

It was a sad and shocking failure that the Assembly, the highest forum of the hemispheric organisation, should not have seen the necessity to come up with a time frame for release of even a measure of desperately frozen development funds.

There were no shortages of the overbearing rhetoric about "democracy" and "good governance", or the platitudes of "concern" for the Haitian people. They were all outlined in the six-page resolution on "the situation in Haiti; the four-page "remarks of Secretary of State Colin Powell", or in the separate one-page statement by the United States Ambassador to the OAS, Roger Noriega.

But at the end of the day, when the curtains came down on the three-day Assembly with its `Barbados Declaration’, packages of documents on hemispheric security and conventions against "terrorism" and "democratic charter", it was tragic that there was not a single sentence of a specific reference for the release of some financial aid from the estimated frozen US$500 million package of promised development assistance for Haiti.

This is the Caribbean nation that remains afflicted by the twin evils of the highest levels of poverty and illiteracy in this hemisphere among the 35-member countries of the OAS, including Cuba that remains unseated under United States pressure, and continues to suffer the consequences of an unprecedented US embargo for some 40 years.

No one can justify flawed, rigged national election in any country that brings into serious question the legitimacy of a parliament, as is being suggested in the case of Haiti, a country of seven million people that will mark its 200th year of political independence from France in 2004.

Hence, surprise and disappointment by the OAS's failure to come forward with a limited aid package in the near future, should not be viewed as an attempt to rationalise illegitimacy of parliamentary governance by any of the OAS countries, among them some 16 from the Caribbean region.

But for all his real and imagined weaknesses, questionable style of governance and even allegations of inspired criminal violence - charges he naturally disputes - President Jean Bertrand Aristide remains the legitimate head of state of Haiti.

True, he was re-elected with a comparatively small percentage, some say no more than 25 to 30 per cent, of the valid votes. But there is no credible evidence that his own election had anything to do with the malpractices that took place in parliamentary and local government polls.

Cooperation is a two-way street. And since one hand can't clap, it is imperative that both the government and opposition parties, with the help of civil society, seek to arrive at a practical compromise, in the interest of the suffering masses of Haitians, who are dying at sea when they fail to reach either The Bahamas, Puerto Rico or Florida in their bid to find refuge in the USA.

Those who survive the ordeal at sea, having been exploited to even get there, find to their horror and personal degradation the discrimination that white Cubans fleeing their homeland, are expediently and brazenly spared by US immigration authorities.

When I asked Haiti's Foreign Minister, Joseph Philip Antonio at a media briefing during the final day of the June 2-4 Assembly, why he had earlier concurred with a resolution on his country that failed to include a time-frame for the release of aid, or why no CARICOM country insisted that this be done, he hesitated, then declared:

"This resolution is an average resolution. It contains elements that will allow the country to move forward...But it is NOT the resolution we expected...."

I also took the opportunity to tell Foreign Minister Antonio, on behalf of my assembled media colleagues, to get President Aristide to understand the concerns of Caribbean journalists about the pressures, the denial of freedoms and even imprisonment (since the assassination of the outstanding journalist Jean Dominique), over the fate of our Haitian colleagues.

If Haitian journalists are indeed guilty of offences, as claimed by the Aristide administration, then they must be charged and placed before a court of law with the assurance of a free trial.

Secretary of State Powell left Barbados last Sunday, after doing what he had really come for, having skipped the official opening ceremony - sign the Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism.

For Powell, "Haiti's democracy is in crisis". I guess we can talk about money for development after "democracy" has been cured of this US-defined "crisis". And for Venezuela, whose President, Hugo Chavez the Bush administration clearly does not like, "democracy is being tested" and must be settled in a "constitutional, democratic manner".

Then he flew away to be in Washington when on Thursday night, President Bush, in an assumed attempt to divert attention away from a Congressional inquiry into intelligence failures on the September 11, 2001 terrorist strikes against the USA, was making a special broadcast on `Homeland Security’.

For a President who likes to talk about "our Caribbean and Latin American friends", and to propagandise on his so-called `Third Border Initiative’ that CARICOM governments are yet to properly explain to the region's people, Bush had not a word to offer on the decisions that resulted from the 32nd General Assembly of the OAS.

His proposal for a revamped, centralised security scheme to safeguard America from terrorism, a project that could involve some 170,000 employees and an annual budget of some US$37 Billion, seemed so far removed from the decisions to flow from the OAS Assembly.

Of direct concern to states in the Caribbean is seeking a "Multi-Dimensional Approach to Hemispheric Security" with fighting poverty, HIV/AIDS, narco-trafficking and securing meaningful aid and trade as the hemisphere advances towards the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

Therefore, in its continuing state of agony, Haiti, which is likely to become a full member of CARICOM at next month's Summit in Guyana, would be most anxious for the "multi-dimensional approach" to result in practical forms of some immediate relief so that instead of lamenting with Rudder, `Haiti we are sorry’, we can rejoice that financial help is really on its way for a people existing in abject poverty.